Lisa Meyers McClintick, travel writer & photographer

Monday, April 18, 2011

Jelly Belly jelly bean art opens at Children's Museum of Indianapolis

Jelly Belly jelly bean artistry on exhibit at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

Princess Elizabeth at Jelly Belly in Wisconsin.
A challenge: Before you let the kids (or yourself) snarf through Easter Basket jelly beans, delay the sugar high with edible art work. Slap some sticky frosting onto a paper plate or graham cracker and see what funky work you can do.
Even better: Give them frosted cupcakes as a canvas and enter the Jelly Belly cupcake challenge for a chance to win $10,000. You have until July to submit winning entries.

Fortunately, there is amazing inspiration for jelly bean art at both the Jelly Belly Candy Company visitor center in Pleasant Prairie, Wis., and at a special Jelly Belly art exhibit that opened this month at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis.

A rainbow of jelly bean color
The timing of the new exhibit feels timely with Easter upon us, but Jelly Belly has commissioned serious works of jelly bean art since the 1980s. That's when the late Peter Rocha created the first bean portrait. Appropriately, it was of Ronald Reagan, Jelly Belly's most famous fan.

With 50 core flavors (and colors and/or patterns to distinguish them), a palette of jelly beans is better than a super-sized box of colored pencils. You'll get everything from deep blueberry (perfect for vivid Van Gogh landscapes) or flesh tones of peach or pina colada for portraits ("Girl in Jelly Belly Pearl Earring" anyone?)

Van Gogh's "Starry Night" gets beaned.
Jelly Belly works of art
Masterpieces of Jelly Bean Art opened April 9 at Indianapolis' children's museum and runs through June. After seeing it, you may never look at Easter candy the same way again (or you'll find yourself wondering what could be done with M&Ms and malted milk mini-eggs).

The Jelly Belly exhibit includes sweet twists on Van Gogh's Starry Night, Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Grant Wood's American Gothic, and more.

Here's a brain teaser: Ask the kids to guess how many beans go into each portrait. (9,000 to 12,000 jelly beans). If they're really good, they'll decipher chocolate pudding eyes, coconut teeth, very cherry headscarves and green apple dresses. It's like a whole 'nother version of paint-by-number.

Girl with a Pearl Earring in Indianapolis.
Feeling inspired? Read about the museum's artist in residence and his thoughts on creating your own jelly bean portrait.

If you can't make it in time for the exhibit, it's still worth a road trip. It's arguably the best and most engaging children's museum in the country.

And if you're traveling from Minnesota, the Dakotas or Wisconsin to get there, guess what's on the way?

Yep, Jelly Belly. It's a virtual factory tour, a train ride and a chance to see jelly bean art year-round for free.  

Read more on this sugary family field trip.

Looking for other family-friendly educational trips? St. Paul's Science Museum glitters with gold and treasures from King Tut's tomb.

--Lisa Meyers McClintick

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tour Wisconsin's Jelly Belly Candy for inside look at jelly beans

Sweet look at small, mighty Jelly Bellys
Photos & feature by Lisa Meyers McClintick
With Easter coming, jelly beans are on the brain--and so is one of the Midwest's sweetest factory tours. Pleasant Prairie, Wis., isn't officially the producer of Jelly Bellys, but this distribution center offers a fun train-like ride that explains the process of creating gourmet jelly beans with videos shown along a playful loop tour.

Pleasant Prairie sits near Kenosha, midway between Milwaukee and Chicago. At the Fairfield, Calif., home factory in the Bay Area, you also can see actual production of Jelly Belly candy being made. Tours at both locations are free and so are the sampler packs given to guests at the end. Just don't expect to leave without buying more--not if you have kids in tow.

Jelly Bellys endure past the 80s boom
The little jelly beans with a big taste were first created in 1976 and became the cult candy of the '80s. Jelly Bellys really rose to fame thanks to President Ronald Reagan who used them to kick his pipe-smoking habit and passed them out at the White House. The blueberry flavor was invented so the company could do a patriotic red, white and blue mix.

Soon Jelly Belly boutiques opened in shopping malls to showcase their astonishingly accurate flavors of root beer, watermelon, cotton candy and even buttered popcorn. If you grew up in that era like I did, it was the best thing since Bonne Belle Lip Smackers.

From worst jelly bean flavors to the best
When Jelly Belly started, there were seven flavors. There are now 50 official flavors. They're the core. But there are close to 200 flavors when you add up special lines such as Bean Boozled, inspired by J.K. Rowling's imagination in the Harry Potter books. Remember Bertie Bott's and deceptive flavors that could be ear wax?

It's like Halloween with all the double-dog-daring you can do.  Bean Boozled look-alike flavors are are either delicious or downright disgusting. What looks like peach may be barf. Licorice could be skunk spray, and top banana could be pencil shavings. You've got a 50-50 chance of a sweet surprise or a nasty one. Of course kids might not blink at ones flavored like toothpaste or boogers.

Do you dare to taste the dog food?
Bellying up to the bean tasting bar at the Pleasant Prairie visitor center was the most memorable part of our tour. Think wine tasting bar for the kiddie set. The swill bucket to gag in would have come in handy as you can sample one jelly bean at a time and suddenly regret trying to out-gross your kids with daring choices.

But can we be blamed? With a company that made amazingly accurate tastes its forte, it's tough not to try even the ickiest of flavors.

Curious about a jelly bean labeled "centipede"? It looks like strawberry, tastes like dirt. Canned dog food? Just like it sounds. I quit after sampling "baby wipes." Ewwww. We quit at before moldy cheese, skunk spray and barf.

Instead of palate-cleansing crackers between sips of red or white wines, you've got sympathetic employees handing over tangerine beans to eradicate or at least mask the vile taste of rotten egg. That was my husband's misfortune to taste.

Favorite Jelly Belly flavors

Our tour guide told us it takes 11 days to make a jelly bean, and new flavors can take months to develop and perfect. Kiwi, in particular, was a challenging flavor to get just right. You'd think it would be easy after figuring out caramel corn, strawberry cheesecake, margarita and toasted marshmallow.

There are several specialty lines, such as sours, sport beans that supposedly have electrolytes like mini-Gatorades, sugar-free beans, Soda Pop Shoppe that tastes like bestselling soda brands and a Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream Parlor Mix with flavors such as apple pie, birthday cake and strawberry blond sundae. There's even a superfruit mix with natural sweeteners.

Ideas always are coming in from customers, but they can be pretty bizarre. Our guide rattled off, "Macaroni and cheese, pickles, ketchup and mustard" to name a few. Sounds like a kids meal that just needs a burger and fries.

Most flavors are more traditional but fun: chili mango, strawberry daiquiri, wild blackberry, tutti-fruitti and Dr. Pepper. Very cherry and buttered popcorn still top the charts of customer favorites.

Our favorite souvenir: the cheap hodge-podge bags of jelly candies labeled "belly flops." They sell a lot more sweets here beyond jelly beans--even a big case of chocolate truffles--but it's the colorful, quirky Jelly Bellys that rule as the star attraction.

Tours run 9am to 4pm at 10100 Jelly Belly Lane, Pleasant Prairie. You can call 866-868-7522 for more information.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Wisconsin Dells' best waterpark resorts for families

Chula Vista's stomach-flipping outdoor plunge, Wisconsin Dells.
Get wet and wild in Wisconsin Dells

Wilderness Territory outdoor waterpark
Feature & Photos by Lisa Meyers McClintick
 Wisconsin Dells rules when it comes to the best waterparks in the nation. In the way Walt Disney became the father of American theme parks, the resorts here have defined what it takes to be a waterpark destination. You could even call it an family resort incubator because what makes a splash here, ripples across the nation.

Truly. It's a Who's Who of Waterpark Royalty. If you know of Great Wolf Lodge with its animated clock towers and children's story hours, it began in the Wisconsin Dells. It's now in 11 locations (including Canada) and considered the largest family of indoor waterparks.

Kalahari Resort, a behemoth with an indoor amusement park and steady convention business, cloned its success in Sandusky, Ohio, and plans a third location in Fredericksburg, Virginia, next year.

What does that mean for families planning a vacation to Wisconsin Dells? A tough decision on which resort to choose. Each has its own personality and unique attractions.

Here's a look at the four biggest and best Wisconsin Dells waterpark resorts. To learn more about each place, click on the headlines. They'll link you to my full reviews on

Chula Vista: Rooms with a Wisconsin river view

Chula Vista's riverside wave pool
Wisconsin Dell's Chula Vista Resort stands out nicely with a rare location along the nicely wooded Wisconsin River. It feels tucked-away from the hubbub of downtown, the Interstate or Dells Parkway with its blazing neon and over-the-top attractions.

Chula Vista guests can sit out balconies overlooking the waterway that carved the famous Dells, float the day away in an outdoor wave pool nestled beneath Norway pines or soak in romantic whirlpool outside the spa. Kids can ride the world's largest indoor water coaster, then plunge down one of the tallest cyclone slides.

Another caveat is being able to leave the car in the parking lot. You can hop a boat tour from Chula Vista's docks or grab water shuttles to downtown for more dining and shopping.

Kalahari Resort: Go big, go wild with African theme
Kalahari's indoor water park, Wisconsin Dells

The resort stands out nicely with its African theme. It also has constantly added new attractions throughout the past decade, from bigger thrills in water park rides to its newer indoor theme park.

What else makes Kalahari stand out? For one, immensity. There are 752 rooms and suites to accommodate families of all sizes.

African music spills out from the lobby where staff members dressed in safari gear and pith helmets assist guests and real tiger or lion cubs may be on display in a glass enclosure. There are enough activities and things to see that the resort can feel like a dry-land cruise ship.

There is a paint-your-own-pottery shop, gift stores and seven dining options including a restaurant overlooking the water park. You don't have to go outdoors either to access the 15-screen Desert Star Cinema.

All these amenities make Kalahari an ideal resort for kids 6 and older who can better appreciate the atmosphere and artwork, navigate longer halls without "Carry me!" tirades, and enjoy the bigger thrills of the water park and theme park.

Wilderness Territory: Best indoor wave pool plus zipline

Lost World outdoor waterpark at Glacier Canyon Lodge,Wilderness Resort
Wilderness Resort
The Wilderness Territory claims to be the largest water park resort in the world. Small wonder. It sprawls across 600 acres multiple water parks, and several resorts within one complex. There are 444 guest rooms, plus condos, villas and cabins with some partly on Lake Delton.

It's often a top choice for travelers to Wisconsin Dells. Families could spend a week and never visit the same water park twice with indoor and outdoor water parks spread throughout the property, totaling more than 500,000 square feet. Different themes fuel young imaginations, whether it's the frontier, the Wild West or dinosaurs.

The one that makes this water park resort stand out among others -- especially on cold winter days -- is the sunny, clear-roofed Wild WaterDome. Anchored by a huge wave pool with up to five-foot waves, families can spread out on recliners beneath tropical trees and get a tan.

'Tweens and teens also love the go-carts, arcade, mini golf and zip-line, which is one of the Dells' newer attractions. For adults, there are outdoor pools, golfing, Field's at the Wilderness Steak House and one of the area's most buzzed-about place for pampering, Sundara Spa.

Great Wolf Lodge: Best choice for younger kids 
Great Wolf Lodge's animated clock tower
When it comes to Wisconsin Dells' large resorts, this is the best choice for toddlers and preschoolers.

Older kids will find plenty to enjoy -- especially with the sprawling water park and bling-y arcade -- but it's the younger ones who will be most excited by the atmosphere and activities.

They love the evening programs in front of the giant lobby clock, the woodsy decor, seasonal fun, ice-cream-themed kids' spa, and the many ways they cater to children.

Highlights include an 80,000-square-foot indoor water park with funnel slide, wave pool and tube slides; an animated song and story hour each night in the lobby; Magic Quest, an interactive game with computerized wands to activate wizards, fairies and dragons; and bubblegum-scented shower gel in each room. There also are family suites with wolf-dens, a room within a room that has woodsy-themed bunk beds and TVs. Playful decor throughout the hotel has lights and objects that can be activated by Wizard Quest wands.
Great Wolf Lodge play fort

While this resort is big with 436 rooms, it's less overwhelming than the Dells' largest resorts. It's manageable and easy to navigate. The resort also excels at seasonal decor -- especially when it comes to kids whose eyes still sparkle at the mention of Santa. The entire lobby becomes a Christmas village in December complete with snow.

Save money on waterpark vacations 
Try these tips to make those waterpark vacations a reality without blowing the budget. Make sure kids understand your limits, too.

Want more Wisconsin Dells tips, details on other properties and attractions? Check out Madison-resident Melanie McManus's Wisconsin Dells app through iTunes. It's a great in-depth visual guide to the area whether you're going as a family or as adults. For $1.99, it's cheaper than a water park locker and whole lot more useful. Free updates included.

Don't want to drive to Wisconsin? I have an app on Minnesota Lake Vacations with reviews of three Minnesota water parks. Both apps are through Sutro Media.